The Guild League

Inner North

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Australian indie pop collective the Guild League cut their ranks from 16 to seven on the beautiful and fluid Inner North. Sophomore records are notoriously spotty, if only because the listener's first exposure to the group is their only frame of reference, so when a loosely assembled "supergroup" puts out a second record that sounds like a veteran, joined-at-the-hip "band," it's all the more impressive. Lucksmiths mouthpiece Tali White has one of those voices that most indie songwriters yearn for. For one, he can actually sing, but it's the winsome -- in a graceful, non-whiny way -- words that escape his clear tenor that so effortlessly complete the package. An unabashed romantic, he's up for both simple debauchery ("Let's get arrested or smashed by these old buildings covered in ash" in "Time Please Gents") and the self-absorbed dual narcissism that infects newly minted lovers ("Now that the sun revolves around the both of us/What will all the scientists do" in "Scientists") with equal fervor. Inner North is a far more plaintive affair than the colorful yet patchy Private Transport. Relying almost exclusively on the co-writing and tasteful guitar work of Rodrigo Pintos-Lopez and Cressida Griffith's warm cello, it owes more to the '70s soft rock of Seals & Crofts than it does Belle & Sebastian -- the vocalist that White most resembles is Love's oft-overlooked second fiddle, Bryan MacLean. White can be wordy, but the musicianship is so consistently surprising -- Gus Rigsby's horn arrangements are like those tiny mints everybody keeps buying -- and the songs so respectful of brevity that they never overextend their welcome. In the end, it's hard not to get wrapped up in the nostalgia of it all, and when White, in the sparse closer, refers to the "quiet burden of your absence," you can't help but wistfully peek out the window.

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